Keeping ingredients cold is key. After that, the technique is simple.

By Samantha Seneviratne
August 16, 2019
Clive Streeter

A tender, flaky, and golden pie crust is well within reach. No fancy equipment is needed. You just need to know a few important details and keep them in mind when making pastry.

Related: Why Mise-en-Place Is the Secret to Baking Success

Ingredients

The most important rule of pastry making is to keep all the ingredients cold. Butter should be ice cold at all times. Water should be ice water (but be sure to keep any pieces of ice out of your dough). If there is time, you can even pop the flour and salt into the fridge before using them. And if at any time the ingredients get warm, refrigerate them until they are cold again.

This applies to finished dough, too. Discs of dough should be thoroughly chilled before rolling. I even like to freeze the unbaked crust in the pie plate before I put it into the oven. Remember that cold ingredients equal flaky pastry.

Simple Tools

A food processor works well but a pastry blender or even two knives used like scissors makes cutting the cold butter into the flour easy and fast. Don't be tempted to use your hands. The warmth they generate could melt the butter. When mixing in the water, the key is to make sure all of the flour is evenly moistened but not too wet. A fork is the perfect tool. The dough may still look crumbly at this point and that's perfectly fine.

Rolling pins come in plenty of shapes and sizes. There are tapered pins and weighted pins. Some have handles and some don't. Try out a few and find your favorite. You may find that one type is much easier for you to use than another and the faster you're able to roll out the dough the more tender it will be.

Glass pie plates are the best for pie pastry. Tempered glass (such as Pyrex) allows heat to disperse well, which encourages more even browning. You can also see the color of the bottom crust while it's baking.

Technique

If you've kept your ingredients cold, you're basically 90 percent of the way to a perfect pie crust! The remaining 10 percent is technique. Once the cold butter is cut into the flour, the pieces should range from the size of coarse sand to about the size of a pea. The varying pieces of butter will melt and create steam, which makes for flaky pastry. If they are too large, there may be holes. If they are too small, the pastry won't be flaky.

Don't add too much water to the dough. Overly wet dough tends to be tough and could shrink in the oven. Add only enough water to allow the crumbly dough mixture to stick together when squeezed.

Once it comes time to roll out the dough, make sure the work surface is dusted with enough flour to keep the pastry from sticking. Roll the dough from the center outwards, rotating the disc a quarter turn every time. Add more flour as necessary and use a long offset spatula to release the dough occasionally. On a hot day, roll the dough out on a floured piece of parchment so that you can easily refrigerate it if it becomes warm.

Make It Pretty

A lightly beaten egg brushed over any top crust or lattice will help with browning and shine. A splash of cream takes the browning even further. If you're feeling fancy, a bit of coarse sanding sugar adds a lovely sparkle to the finished pie.

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